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Obama walking ‘very delicate line’ in Iraq allegiances

June 19th, 2014
03:42 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

U.S. President Barack Obama must walk a “very delicate line” of sectarian allegiance as he prepares to send 300 military advisers to Iraq, Former Senior U.S. State Department Adviser Vali Nasr told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, the man who led America’s military surge in Iraq, David Petraeus, said that the U.S. must be careful not to appear like “the air force of Shiite militias.”

But Nasr, a leading authority on these sectarian issues, said that there is fear on all sides.

“This is now being billed as the sharp edge of a Sunni revival in the region, and that’s the way the Shiites are seeing it,” he said. “And the Sunni countries in the region are not separating ISIS from the rest of the Sunni forces, and Iraqi Sunnis have not stood up and for instance condemned massacre of 1,700 Shiite soldiers in Tikrit.”

“And all of that gives a sense that everybody is accepting ISIS as now the voice of Sunnis. And that’s exactly what will cause the Shiites to be very worried about any kind of concession to the Sunnis.”

“He [Obama] has to also be careful not to be appear to the Shiites of Iraq to be the Sunni’s armed force as well, or the Sunni supporter,” Nasr said. “He has to walk a very delicate line.”

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a Shiite, has come under stark criticism for stoking sectarian tensions in his country, as Sunni extremists take control of large swaths of the country.

As a chorus of voices in the West floats the idea that Prime Minister Maliki must leave office for the crisis to be alleviated, Nasr emphasized that local context be understood.

“We also wanted the Syrians to dump Bashar al-Assad, and he’s still there. I think Maliki’s constituency is worried about its own future. People are worried about being massacred, and people are worried about the threats of ISIS to destroy their shrines. I think they want Maliki to deal with ISIS – not necessarily give the shop away.”

What then of Iran, the regional Shiite superpower that backs Maliki’s government?

“I think Iran will play a constructive role insofar as wanting an inclusive government. But then the question is, ‘What are the terms of that inclusive government?’”

“I don’t think Iran would be willing for the Shiites to give away power to the Sunni and to have a kind of a restoration of Sunni authority in Iraq.”

“I think generally Iran is fearful of ISIS, generally Iran wants this crisis to be resolved – to that extent it’s on the same page with the U.S.. But I don’t think Iran is ready to go as far as the United States want to in including the Sunnis in the power structure.”

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Iraq • Latest Episode
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. ashok

    300 military advisers seems to be a slender force ...

    June 19, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  2. desertvoice

    The only way to insure that no one accuses the U.S. of taking Sunni or Shiite side, is to put an interim Governor now in lieu of al Maliki, and to insure that that Governor is an Iraqi Christian! It has to be a Christian because KUrds are distancing themselves from Iraq and thus cannot run Iraq! Christians, however, are non-sectarian and therefore acceptable to all Iraqis. If it were up to me, even though I know that I will be attacked for this, I would return Tarik Azzis as a right hand of the interim Christian Governor. I say it because Tarik knows how to run Iraq, much better than Saddam Hussein!

    June 19, 2014 at 6:52 pm | Reply
    • ZZ

      Ture that the Kurds are distancing themselves from Iraq, but almost all Christians left the country, or are forced to leave the country. Tarik Aziz must be hanged for convicting of crimes against humanity, genocide and using chemical weapons against Kurds. How such an expired person can be the president?!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      June 19, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  3. Hector J.Garcia.F

    Who is the culprit of all this ? Ask to the iraquí people..

    June 19, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Reply
  4. A Simple Iraqi Citizen

    US politicians have to read the situation right. This is not by itself a sectarian war. It is a full fledged foreign invasion of Iraq by Al Qaeda / ISIS: a brutal army of extremists who motivated groups from Iraqi minorities to support them, crossed the borders from Syria and are now on their way to control the epicenter of the world\s energy as well as destroy one of the region's best models of democracy. If they do, the next battlefield will undoubtedly move to Europe and the US, sooner than anyone can imagine; note ISIS's smart tactical approach of making series of unexpected consecutive attacks by small groups at different places to keep the initiative in their hands and make retaliation difficult.

    Iraqis have now absorbed a Pear Harbor like shock and answered the call of duty in hundreds of thousands between security forces and volunteers. But they need very urgent and strong support from the US and the International Community to turn what may become a universal disaster into an opportunity to destroy the infrastructure of Al Qaeda / ISIS.

    June 20, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Reply

    HMM? 300 is just the offisial numbers i bet ther probly a lot more

    June 23, 2014 at 10:28 am | Reply
  6. Uncle Sam

    If U.S. never attedned to go back to Iraq we wouldn't have built our largest U.S. Ebassy there. Knowing if it ever fell under attck we would have to go back and defend it and have another War.

    July 7, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  7. A Simple Iraqi Citizen

    For a couple of years now, Iraq has been trying in vain to buy advanced weaponry including F16's from the US. Iraq has also been trying, against the US administration's will, to avoid another power sharing government, in which ministers receive instructions to serve their parties' interest not the country's. Al Qaeda / ISIS attacks Mosul and occupies it because the power sharing factions in the Iraqi army receive instructions from their party leaders to quit. The US maintains its position. West and north Iraq fall. 500'000 Iraqis get displaced. The Iraqi army fights back fiercely without air cover. No change in the US position. Kurdstan's radical leader Barazani – in agreement with ISIS – overtakes oil rich Kirkuk. Obama is still adamant not to support Iraq. US admits that Al Qaeda /ISIS is planning attacks against western airports, yet it refuses to support Iraq. ISIS orders all Christians in north Iraq to pay a levy, convert to Islam – the way they define it – or move out of their homes leaving all their possessions behind. 5,000 Iraqi Christian families leave their homes after 14 centuries of living in peace in Iraq, the very land from which Abraham marched with his people from Ur. The American administration is still assessing the situation and refuses to sell Iraq the weaponry it needs. Pressure mounts from Iraqis on their government to find other partners who don't let down their friends in such fateful times. No change in the US position. Only when ISIS attacks American soil, which will inevitably happen if the US continues to let them grow, this short-sighted administration will realize that several planes and few wise actions to support a democratic model in the Middle East would have been less costly.

    July 18, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply

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